What is erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is usually a treatable condition. Along with traditional medication and therapy, there are also complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies for ED. Unfortunately, there’s little evidence to support the use of most CAM therapies for ED. In fact, some therapies may actually be dangerous for your health.

Talk to your doctor before you take any supplements or alternative therapies for your ED. Many supplements can interact dangerously with medications. Remember that even herbal or “natural” remedies can be unsafe.

There are a number of herbs and supplements for use in men with ED. However, the overall quality of the studies evaluating these treatments has been low. Therefore, evidence for the effectiveness and safety of these therapies is limited. Many of these therapies have known risks, and there’s a possibility that other risks are yet to be discovered. Always use CAM therapies with caution.

Korean red ginseng (panax ginseng)

Several studies suggest that ginseng may be able to help men with ED. However, ginseng can cause low blood sugar and be dangerous for diabetics. It may also interact badly with some antidepressants.


L-arginine is a naturally occurring amino acid found in certain foods. It’s important for nitrous oxide (NO) synthesis.

Good NO synthesis is important for erectile function. It increases penile blood flow by relaxing muscles and vessels. Viagra and similar medications work by altering NO levels.

There’s mixed evidence that L-arginine supplements may be able to help with ED. Some studies have found positive results, while others have not.


There’s some evidence that bark from the yohimbe tree can help with ED. The bark contains a substance called yohimbine. It’s been traditionally used in Africa as an aphrodisiac. Today, a pharmaceutical form of yohimbine (called yohimbine hydrochloride) is being studied to treat erectile dysfunction in men. However, it can cause severe side effects, including high blood pressure, tremors, and anxiety.


Ginkgo is an herb that’s been used medicinally for thousands of years to treat a variety of ailments. This supplement may improve penile blood flow. Additionally, some reports suggest that ginkgo can increase bleeding risk. This makes it particularly dangerous for people using blood thinners. Other studies, including one from 2011, found no evidence of increased bleeding while using ginkgo.

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)

DHEA is a hormone made by the human body. It’s a building block for testosterone. According to a study published in Urology, this supplement may be able to help men whose ED is related to having low testosterone. However, there’s no definitive evidence of this benefit. It’s clear that DHEA can cause various side effects, including liver damage and acne. Long-term use of DHEA can also cause hormonal imbalances.

Folic acid and vitamin E

There’s limited evidence suggesting that these vitamins can help some men with ED who are also taking sildenafil (Viagra). These vitamins are usually safe in small doses.


Zinc may improve ED in men who have a zinc deficiency. However, too much zinc can harm your immune system.


This traditional Chinese treatment uses fine needles. A practitioner inserts the needles into specific parts of the body to stimulate various pressure points. Practitioners believe that this can correct imbalances in Chi (energy) and treat illness. Acupuncture is generally considered safe.

There’s a small amount of research to show that acupuncture may be able to treat ED. However, the quality of the studies has been low, and little scientific evidence exists to support the use of acupuncture for ED.

Herbal Viagra

A number of over-the-counter herbal supplements claim to treat ED. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, you should avoid products labeled as “herbal Viagra.” These supplements can increase blood flow and cause dangerous drops in blood pressure. Risk may be particularly high for men who are using nitrates. Herbal Viagra can also interact with other prescription drugs. Herbal Viagra products may contain potentially toxic compounds that aren’t listed on the label.